Russia vetoed a British-drafted U.N. resolution on Monday that took aim at Iran over a report by U.N. experts that said the country violated an arms embargo by failing to prevent missiles and drones from being supplied to Shiite rebels in Yemen.
The vote in the Security Council was 11 in favor, Russia and Bolivia opposed, and China and Kazakhstan abstaining.
Britain sought to focus attention on a report in January by the U.N. panel of experts monitoring sanctions against Iran that examined missile remnants fired into Saudi Arabia by Houthi rebels last year and said many “are consistent with those of the Iranian designed and manufactured Qiam-1 missile.”
It concluded that Iran was in “non-compliance” with the 2015 U.N. arms embargo on Yemen because it failed “to take the necessary measures” to prevent the direct or indirect supply of missiles and drones to the Houthis.
Britain’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Jonathan Allen, urged council members not to “shy away from calling out those whose actions undermine international peace and security.”
“This council needs to stand firm in the face of state non-compliance and send a clear message that it will not be tolerated,” he said.
To try to get Russian support, Britain first dropped a condemnation of Iran in the text. And during last-minute negotiations, it dropped a promise of “additional measures” against violators of the arms embargo and also softened language from “expressing concern” to “taking note with particular concern” of the experts’ findings.
But Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia wasn’t satisfied.
He accused Britain of sowing “discord at a time when the Security Council is in dire need of closing its ranks” by bringing the resolution to a vote knowing it would be vetoed.
Nebenzia called the panel’s “selective and contentious conclusions” unverified and uncorroborated. And he warned that the resolution’s adoption would have “dangerous, destabilizing ramifications” in Yemen and the region.
“This will inevitably escalate regional tensions and lead to conflicts among key regional players,” he told the council, warning of the “grave danger in toying with geopolitical maps” and antagonizing relations in the Middle East between Sunnis and Shiites.
Yemen, the Arab world’s most impoverished country with a population of 26 million, plunged into war in 2014 after the Houthis took over the capital Sanaa and forced the internationally recognized government to flee and seek support from neighboring Gulf countries.
In March 2015, a Saudi-led, U.S.-backed coalition began what has turned into a devastating war that has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced 2 million, and created the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. Saudi Arabia views the Houthis as an Iranian proxy.
Kelley Currie, the U.S. ambassador for economic and social affairs, said the council’s failure to pass the British resolution “set back our collective efforts to promote peace in Yemen.”
“Today, Russia accused the majority of this council of attempting to destabilize the region by supporting the U.K.'s text,” she said. “This is perverse when, in fact, Russia’s veto today serves only to protect Iran’s efforts to destabilize the region and spread its malign influence.”
Instead of demanding accountability from Iran, Currie told the council that Russia, Bolivia, China and Kazakhstan “decided to shield Tehran from responsibility.”
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who was flying to Central America, warned in a statement: “If Russia is going to use its veto to block action against Iran’s dangerous and destabilizing conduct, then the United States and our partners will need to take actions against Iran that the Russians cannot block.”
Iran’s U.N. Mission reiterated Monday that it “categorically rejects allegations regarding arms transfer to Yemen.”
“Today, U.S. and U.K. attempted to misuse Security Council procedures to advance their political agenda and put the blame of all that has happened in Yemen on Iran by pushing an unwarranted draft resolution,” the mission said in a statement.
Iran accused the United States and Britain of being “the major military supporters of the war of aggression against Yemen.”
The British-drafted resolution would also have extended sanctions on Yemen, which expired Monday, and the mandate of the panel of experts.
Immediately after the British draft was vetoed, a rival Russian draft was put to a vote.
It made no mention of Iran or the panel of experts’ report, but simply extended sanctions against Yemen until Feb. 26, 2019, and the mandate of the panel of experts until March 28, 2019. That resolution was adopted unanimously.